A breakthrough in the most common form of fatal brain tumour could lead to an improvement in how they are treated, according to a new study.
Scientists from Newcastle University say they have contradicted the commonly held belief that tumour cells require mainly sugars to make energy by showing that they actually rely on fats to fuel growth.
The experts claimed this could have significant implications for understanding the behaviour of glioma, which is the most common form of malignant brain tumour in adults with approximately four cases per 100,000 people each year.
Dr Elizabeth Stoll, from Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, said: "Patients with malignant glioma currently receive a poor prognosis, and new interventions are desperately needed to increase the survival and quality of life for patients with the condition.
"Our results provide new insight into the fundamental biochemistry of cancer cells, with exciting implications for patients in the future.
"Most cells within the adult brain require sugars to produce energy and sustain function. Interestingly, we have discovered that malignant glioma cells have a completely different metabolic strategy as they actually prefer to break down fats to make energy.
"Our finding provides a new understanding of brain tumour biology, and a new potential drug target for fighting this type of cancer."
The study made use of tumour tissue donated by patients undergoing surgery, as well as mouse models of the disease.
Findings of the research are published online in the journal Neuro-Oncology.
In the study, the scientists claimed to show that glioma cells grow more slowly if they are treated with a drug known as etomoxir, which prevents the cells from making energy with fatty acids.
But they said that it does not address whether nutrition or diet influence tumour growth.
Dr Stoll said she hoped to carry out future studies to develop the drug with clinical partners, so that glioma patients may benefit from the research in the coming years.